When Suzannah Patterson heard screams she thought it was from a hijacking, only to find scores of R100 notes fluttering in the wind.

Johannesburg - The Limpopo Public Works Department has been slammed for withholding crucial documents relating to assets worth more than R2 billion from Auditor-General Terence Nombembe.

MEC Thabitha Mohlala and department head Madidimalo Chaamano were chastised by the provincial legislature’s standing committee on public accounts on Thursday.

The A-G noted that for the 2011/2012 financial year that ended in March, he was unable to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence on the adjustments made to the immovable tangible assets reflected at R2bn.

Committee chairman Derrick Ngobeni said the department had no authority to keep public documents a secret.

“Nobody, not even the premier, not even the MEC, not even the president, can say no,” he said.

“If people say ‘we are not going to give you the documents’, [the question is] why? What are you hiding?” Ngobeni asked.

Chaamano apologised to the committee and was instructed to make a written apology to the A-G.

“The department did not keep records of the adjustments for the 2010/2011 financial year when the asset register was updated,” Chaamano admitted.

“The A-G is there to assist this messy department to get a clean audit opinion,” DA MPL Desiree van der Walt reminded department officials.

Public Works is one of the five provincial departments that were placed under national administration last December for bad governance and financial mismanagement.

For the 2011/12 financial year that ended in March, the A-G gave it a disclaimer. The department conceded that its asset register, currently using “normal Excel spreadsheets”, was open to manipulation.

“The department sought an alternative to use the electronic system [iE-Works], which is being hosted by the national Department of Public Works, but could use it only for payment of devolved rates and taxes since other modules, including the asset register, are still not functional,” said Chaamano.

The department did not have a dedicated unit and full-time staff working specifically on its asset register, which the committee said was in a shambles.

As a result, the department cannot account for all the assets, including buildings and land that belong to the state.

Chaamano said the department would soon employ an architect to run the planned asset register unit.

However, Ngobeni was still sceptical.

“In my view, the commitment and willingness are just not there. And we mentioned that you need a dedicated team to deal with the asset register, because for you this is very serious,” he said.

The committee also heard that a R6m contract was awarded to a company to refurbish one of its buildings, without the accounting officer’s approval.

The A-G picked up that the tender was advertised for 23 days, instead of 30 as required by Treasury regulations.

The department also awarded contracts and tenders worth R30m illegally, resulting in irregular expenditure.

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The Star